Officials from the Gulf Coast met in Washington to discuss the effects of the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening. From back left, Biloxi Civic Innovation and Development Officer Cliff Kirkland, Waveland Mayor Mike Smith, and Gulfport Councilman Myles Sharp. From front left, Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich, Sen. Roger Wicker, and D’Iberville City Manager Clay Jones.

Waveland Mayor Mike Smith, along with several other coast leaders, on Wednesday met with officials in Washington D.C. to discuss the effects of the Bonnet Carre Spillway on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In a letter from Gov. Phil Bryant to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Bryant said, "On Feb. 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway to relieve pressure from the Mississippi waterway system."

The Spilllway was closed on April 11 and reopened again on May 10 and "remains open for the foreseeable future," Bryant said.

"The Bonnet Carre Spillway acts to divert the waters of the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain, which ultimately flow into the Mississippi Sound," Bryant said in the letter. "The large releases of freshwater from the actions of the Spillway inundate the saltwater of the Mississippi Sound and greatly disrupts the unique ecosystem, and subsequently, all sea-life of this region."

During a special meeting held Tuesday, the Waveland Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved Smith's request for travel funds to meet with the Corps of Engineers and others on Wednesday.

Smith and Alderman Charles Piazza both said that the effects from the spillway's opening may be "worse than the BP oil spill."

Smith said Tuesday that he planned to tell officials in Washington how the opening has affected the charter fishermen; the loss of salinity in the waters; and the loss of sea life.

"My fear is that we're going to lose our tourism and it's affecting already the tourism, which correlates to direct loss in revenue all across the Coast," Smith said.

Smith said his opportunity to travel to Washington is a chance to "just be heard."

"All of us cities on the Coast we all get together, we all get along, and so we're approaching this as a group to have a lot of voice, just to get the U.S. Corps of Engineers to say 'hey, let me take a look and let's listen to what's going on,''' Smith said.

Smith said Wednesday that Coast officials met with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers; the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Department of Commerce.

Smith said he believes the meeting was "very productive" and leaders provided officials with a list of the problems facing the Gulf Coast.

Smith said there are plans to conduct an "extensive study" on flood sketches.

Smith added that no "immediate solution as to restore the marine life" was reached.

According to Bryant's letter, the current "oyster mortality rate is 70 percent;" and "crab landings are currently estimated at a 35 percent loss."

"The 2019 shrimp season has historically opened the first week of June," Bryant said. "We are anticipating a much later date for this opening and much lower shrimp landings; this is directly the result of the freshwater intrusion into the Western Mississippi Sound."

Bryant has also created an intra-agency and university task force to monitor the effects of the spillway.

Agencies include: Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Mississippi State University, and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.

In his letter to Ross, Bryant also requested a "federal fisheries disaster declaration as outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act."

"We bill continue to monitor the influence of the Mississippi River freshwater as it continues to adversely impact the Mississippi Sound and update you with our findings from the assessment," Bryant said. "The declaration of a federal fisheries disaster for Mississippi may assist in obtaining financial assistance for all negatively impacted ecosystems, fishermen, and related businesses in a timely manner."

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